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A Family Story is a Path to Friendship


Last week my family sat in my newly married son’s basement apartment chatting. It had been a big day for us so far. We had dropped my middle son off at the Missionary Training Center for him to begin his service as a missionary for the LDS church. Feelings were a little raw, to say the least, but we were all feeling united. There is a sort of “miserable joy” that comes with such an event and it felt like one of those moments when your family story is unfolding before your eyes.

My Eliza Mae at the gravesite of her namesake and Great-Grandma Shirley Mae. She has heard family stories about her all of her life.

As we chatted, we got to talking about how we came to name of each of the six children in our family. When we got to our caboose, our cute Eliza Mae, we talked about he we turned to our family history to find her name. We wanted it to end with an “A” like her two older sisters and we knew we would be naming her Mae as a middle name. My husband and I both had grandmothers with the middle name of Mae so it seemed like a natural fit. “When we saw Eliza and saw that it was on our both our family lines we knew that was it,” I said. When I looked down at her she was beaming from ear to ear. We then proceeded to tell her about her great-grandma Mae’s and how she was like them in so many ways. She knows those grandmas even though she has never met them. They died long before she was born.

Our conversation took me back to the weekend before when I attended the Ogden Family History Conference: Of Roots and Branches at Weber State University. The keynote speaker was Area Seventy and chairman of the board for Petersen Inc., Elder Steven Petersen. I was excited to hear his address because I had an opportunity to interview him earlier this year for another project and I was so impressed with his candor and love for family history. At the time he talked about how he loved to have “dashboard time” with people, meaning long car chats. I, too, think you get to know a person best from long car rides. You can ask the hard questions and give honest answers because guess what? You’re trapped! But I digress, Elder Petersen’s remarks were sure to be on point and of course they were. But one thing I especially loved about his thoughts were that of his wife’s Polly Petersen. It was obvious the two were on the same page about family history work and family life in general. The two brought out some points that really rung a chord with a me. 

A family story creates a path to friendship

Polly Petersen recounted a story that occurred on their family ranch. They had set up a miniature blacksmith shop in honor of Elder Petersen’s great grandfather, Robert Anderson. Along with the blacksmith shop, they included the story of his life so family members could read it and get to know him. She talked about her young grandson reading the story and working in the blacksmith shop. “He was in awe of the story. It made everything we did worth the effort,” Polly said. She watched as her grandson took in every part of the story and they way he lit up while in the blacksmith shop created in their ancestor’s honor. “Teaching each other priceless family history helps us to become friends with them,” Polly said.

As she said that, a light went off in regard to my own life. As a child when we visited Texas each year to visit my dad’s family, we would take an annual pilgrimage to Walnut Springs, Texas where my grandma and grandpa grew up and then to the family cemetery not far from there. The men would take the front seat and the women would take the back seat. At first I would always clamor for the front, but as I grew older I was fine to let my sister take the front and I would sit between my mom and grandma and listen to the stories my grandma would tell about her growing up life on the Texas plains. She would tell stories of her life, but also of her parents. One story I remember in particular was that my great grandmother would tie her babies in the trees so she could go work the farm. Why did she do this? So the wolves wouldn’t get her babies! She knew she needed to work, but also knew she had to protect her babies. When I think my life is hard, I think of her and long to talk with her about her life. But I know a part of it, and I would like to think we would be friends.

I re-told this to my children when I took them to all those places my grandparents took me on a family vacation to Texas this summer.

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